'More relaxed' Contreras glad to return home with Cubs originally appeared on NBC Sports Chicago
ST. LOUIS — The cold calculus of the business side of baseball is why Cubs catcher Willson Contreras was shopped in trade talks for weeks — and why he ultimately was not traded at the deadline Tuesday after all that emotional twisting.
The human side of the game?
That showed up almost immediately after the player in the clubhouse who has shared the most humanity this season exhaled upon finding out he would remain a Cub through the season.
His first five plate appearances after the deadline: A drive to the wall in left for a long out, triple to right, hit by pitch, hit by another pitch and opposite-field home run.
As simple as clearing his mind?
“It seems like it,” said the three-time All-Star, who had slumped since his All-Star start two weeks before the deadline. “I just wanted it to be over and clear my mind and play baseball. I feel more relaxed, like it took a weight off my shoulders.
“I’m glad it’s over, and now I just need to keep my focus on the team and help the pitchers, help the [young] players any way I can.”
Next up for Contreras is Friday’s reunion with a Wrigley Field crowd he thought he had seen for the last time as a Cub last week — when he was treated to multiple ovations during an emotional, nine-inning farewell.
“It’s going to be fun. It’s going to be good,” he said, smiling after scoring the Cubs’ first two runs since Saturday during two-hit performance in Thursday’s doubleheader opener (won 4-3 by the Cardinals on a walkoff).
“I know that I said goodbye because I assumed that I was getting traded. But it didn’t happen. I’m glad that I get to go back to Wrigley Field where everything started, and get to play in front of the best fan base in baseball.”
Cubs manager David Ross and teammates noticed the difference in Contreras almost immediately after getting through a stressful deadline day without being moved.
“I was talking to him earlier, and he said he feels like he can take a deep breath again, says he’s sleeping better,” teammate Marcus Stroman said. “That’s hard on anybody going through that, especially when Willson’s bee here for his entire career. I couldn’t imagine just picking up and not knowing where you’re going. It’s hard on anybody.”
Said Ross: “Willson looks good, back to the guy we’ve known.”
Contreras already got a big ovation Tuesday night from traveling Cubs fans at Busch Stadium when he took the field, and Ian Happ — who also survived the deadline after being shopped — was recognized as well.
Happ made a home-run-robbing catch in left during that same first game back in which Contreras tripled.
“Fans are happy to see those guys still around from what I’ve heard and what you guys write — the little bit I read,” Ross said. “I’m happy that they’re still here. They’re happy that they’re still here. And I think the fans should be and continue to show their love.
How long Contreras in particular sticks around is a big question. He’s eligible for free agency in two months, and sources close to both sides of the equation suggest an extension is unlikely at best.
“I don’t have to worry about the offseason, because it’s going to come,” Contreras said. “Why would I worry about something that is going to come. I’d rather worry about today and tomorrow. And then in the offseason, whatever’s going to happen is going to happen.
“I know I said the same thing during the trade deadline. It was different; I get that. I wouldn’t take that back,” he said. “But I’m just focused on helping my team get better.”